I have never traveled much. A junior high mission trip to Mexico. An exchange trip to Germany in high school. A trip to a boyfriend’s family reunion in Minnesota right after college. I don’t like flying, winding drives can make me carsick, and I find it generally distasteful to be somewhere that I don’t know how to get help if I need it. Travel puts me beyond the illusion of control. In addition, for many of these trips I was a commodity of some sort, a showpiece. I was not there for the land, for the people, for an experience sans agenda. I was trying to please someone else, and as always, that is stressful.
Thus, it was a little confusing to know I needed to travel when I left the classroom in June.
And I mean I knew I needed to travel. There was not a week when the thought was not trying to dig and scratch it’s way out of the pit I had thrown it in. Nonetheless, it took me till the end of August to get myself to Niagara Falls. It was astounding. I can still feel the water, warmer than you would expect, pour over my head on the Hurricane Deck in the Cave of the Winds. I can still hear the lusty howling that came out of my throat, and watch the white butterflies waft over every inch of the park. Nevertheless, a lot of that trip was spent on talking myself through the remnants of old reactions to life, realizing in a lived sort of way, that there was now no one to please beyond myself.
Having accomplished that rewrite of my narrative, the feeling was qualitatively different when my boots touched the ground in Portland last week. I wanted to be with the place as it was. I was glad it was 36 degrees out. I was glad for the rain, melting snow, ice, and bright green mosses warming gnarled trees. As this feeling grew over the course of the week, I was able to see changes in myself that had been happening right under my nose, one’s I couldn’t quite track in my everyday landscape.
The first came in my resistance to shopping. I woke up on day two of my trip, determined to head downtown, do my touristy duty, when I was met with a deep and persistent, “I don’t wanna!” I didn’t investigate the feeling much that day, but rather set out to walk. I covered over ten miles that day, sliding through the mud in Tabor Park, making lefts or rights based on red or green lights, asking shopkeepers or waitresses what their favorite parts of this area were, and getting lost in everyday, “boring” parts of Portland. My feet were saying ‘fuck you,’ but my heart was saying, ‘YES!!!!”
The next day, I hadn’t quite learned my lesson. I headed downtown, and after recovering from the book-gasm that is Powell’s Bookstore, I found myself totally disenchanted, wondering why I didn’t have a plan, when just yesterday I was reveling in my planlessness. It finally hit me after leaving a shop where I didn’t buy anything. Shopping is not how I treat myself well anymore. What?!? Come again?
Growing up, deprivation of “luxuries” was often necessary to make the rent and do things like eat. Thus, as soon as I was able as an adult, I very rarely deprived myself of buying anything I thought I wanted. The purchases may have been considered or impulse, on credit or in real money, but I made them…all. But as I paused and felt myself in the middle of all this commerce, not only did I not want or need it, but I had an immediate desire to get myself to the nearest park so I could breathe. I was enjoying myself without purchases to mark the occasion or even “celebrate” my birthday. I was at home, I was satisfied, within myself. And I was awake enough to watch the shift happening.
I took this peace into the Women’s March on Saturday, not at all bothered that it was on my birthday (believe me, five years ago the interruption to ‘my day’ would have made me apoplectic). According to estimates, 100,ooo stood and marched in what was near constant rain. My first few moments of the pre-rally were a little snarky, thinking about how many Californians would have melted into the ground already, but as I reached a spot where the crowd thickened, and we were literally shoulder to shoulder and back to front, an immense sense of rootedness washed over me. The people here were rugged. The landscape was rugged as well. Individual trees throughout the city reached from the ground like the knuckled fingers of very old men. Great swaths of trees stood, more imposing than any man made wall. A few days before in the park, I had marveled at how much easier it was to walk in the mud when dead branches and leaves were present. The dead weren’t with us in a floaty, always in our hearts way, but rather direct traction under our feet.
There were many moments of great soulfulness during the march, but watching the men that were there was particularly moving for me. In one stretch of street, a young man was kneeling directly in the middle, forehead touching the wet, rocky pavement, hands outstretched. It’s a pose that I’ve seen some homeless people take as they throw themselves on the mercy of a cruel world and ask for money, but I sensed there was more story here. He had no clever sign, no special outfit, just an officer standing near, I hoped to guard him from harm. I had no more than sixty seconds to see him and wonder, before he was gone from sight. I won’t ever know his story. An older man, probably in his 40’s, appeared not much after that, standing on a street corner with a sign that simply read, “Thank you Women.” The force and simplicity of the love that I felt in that moment still brings tears to my eyes. Finally, a man perhaps in his 70’s, long white beard, marching near me and talking to a friend said, “You know, I think this is even better than the marches I went to back in the day when we were trying to get the E.R.A passed.” His face beamed. Presumably, this man had spent a lifetime being an ally.
The toxic enactment of masculinity has scared me for a long time, and fairly or not, I have spread it over many men I’ve known. It is a fear I am just coming to reckon with recently. I see now, at least in part, what it’s stolen from my relationships with men, both friends and partners, and how it has dampened my adventure heart. Returning home and to dance on Monday, I was sitting in the midst of immense love when this question posed itself: were you safe there? In the embrace of this masculine land, these male allies, this external adventure, were you safe? I was. I really was, I answered myself. Not only that, but I was met more solidly than I am used to. There were no grand tears or grieving in this realization, just one more layer of profound healing. Men aren’t the problem, and the more I look around, the more men I see who are active, available, and compassionate. They see us–not as obstacle, burden, or competition, but as the rest of the soul in this life that we’re all living.
My internal landscape is shifting each time I travel. My heart is asking for what it needs in each new trip. And though unaccustomed to giving up so much control, I am listening, and I am learning to follow.